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 ...and thanks for stopping by. I'm Claire Douglas,  DIY and home interiors writer specialising in money-saving and creative home interior projects. I've spent years developing my 'bespoke on a budget' approach to DIY and home interiors and I love sharing all my tips and tricks in tutorials and posts here on my blog, in articles I write for some of the leading titles, in the press, on Instagram, Tiktok and my online course

  • Claire Douglas

How to panel a staircase wall: an easy DIY tutorial

Updated: Jun 10

DIY Stairs panelling made easy: elevate your staircase walls with wall panelling

DIY stairs panelling

Knowing how to panel a staircase is a handy DIY skill and I'm going to share all my tips with you in this post. Stairs panelling, one of my favourite design features, is an achievable and affordable home DIY project and a great way to add character. I recently shared a post about how to template the angles for stair panelling, and this is the promised follow-up post with all the juicy step-by-step details for the whole stair wall panelling process.


The key steps for how to panel stairs are to first decide on the layout of your panels, measure and mark the walls, create a template for the angles, cut and attach the pieces of moulding, caulk, prime and paint. It really is that easy and the good news is that I've made a bunch of mistakes testing this process out so you don't have to! 


I know you don't want to read a load of waffle, so let's jump straight into the nitty gritty about how to install DIY stairs panelling.


Types of staircase panelling


If you've got this far with this DIY stairs panelling tutorial, I'm assuming that you've already chosen which type of wall panelling you want to fit. However, if you are still looking for stair wall panelling inspiration for your stairs or entrance hall, then you need to visit the post I wrote recently about types of stair panelling first. Read it here.


The following tutorial is for traditional style picture frame moulding panelling, but if your chosen type of panelling was tongue and groove wall panelling you can read my tutorial here. It's not for stairs specifically, but you'll need to cut the wall panels on the angle rather than straight to adapt this process for a staircase. 


You will need

To fit DIY stairs panelling you will need the following tools and materials

tools and materials for stairs panelling

Tape measure

Pencil

Level

Saw

Clamps

Sandpaper

Wood for template (offcut or mdf or even strong card will do)


If you are looking for info about where to buy wood for wall panelling projects read this post to find out.


Decide on stair panel positioning.

Measuring up for stairs panelling with a tape measure

It’s crucial to do the maths before you start DIY stair panelling as you need to calculate

  • how many panels you want on each whole staircase wall

  • how large you want the panels

  • where on the wall you want to position them

  • exactly how you are going to deal with the wall at the top and bottom of the stairs to ensure your panels blend in seamlessly. 


To make this step easier, I sketched out the stair wall first to mark the measurements.


Stairs before wall panelling

I decided that I wanted five panels on each side of the stairs (I think an uneven number looks better), but you can choose any number you want.  


I already had a dado rail to work with, but if you are starting this project competely from scratch then you’ll want to add this rail first. 



What size gap for stair panelling?

You need to decide on the size gap you want around and between the panels (ie from the stairs to the base of each panel, the gap between each panel and the gap between the top of the panel and the dado rail).


I trialled a couple of options by creating a template of each size and holding a piece of moulding on the wall with that sized gap. I decided that 10cm was a bit too wide as the panels felt a bit squashed. If I were starting from scratch, I’d probably go for a 10cm gap and attach the dado higher, but as it was already on the wall I reduced the gap to 7.5cm and that worked fine. 


Create a template for the gap around stair panels

mdf template for stairs panelling

I created the template for the stair panel gap using offcuts of mdf from previous panelling projects, but you could use any piece of wood or even thick card. Having a template saves you so much time and effort, because you can speedily mark where you want your panels and avoid any issues with mis-measured lines etc. 


Why mark the walls for stair panelling?

Marking the intended panel positions on the wall saves so much time and effort. You can clearly see where every piece of moulding will go before you start and can check that you are happy with the layout, position and size of the wall panels before you stick any on the wall. 


Marking the walls also allows you to check you have the angles right for each panel which saves issues and wastage once you start cutting. 

Mark the walls with pencil as this can be easily rubbed off and also won’t show through under the paint layers. 


Measure and cut the panelling

The first line to mark on the wall surface is the gap between the stairs and the bottom of the wall panels. Take your template, place it on the wall touching the stairs and mark the width along the whole length of the stairs. 


Take your template and place the long side against the dado rail. Take the pencil and mark the underside of the template aong the length of the entire stairs wall. Now you have the top and bottom lines for your panels.

templating panelling for a staircase wall

Mark the first horizontal line that forms one side of the first panel and you can see the angle you need to cut. I've written a separate tutorial on how to template the angles in detail if you want to read that here...





clamping and cutting panelling strips for a staircase wall

Once you've measured the length of the side panels and templated the angles at each end, it's time to make the cuts (also covered in the angles tutorial).


Clamp the wood (as shown) to keep it still while you cut to ensure you get accurate cuts.



Stair wall panelling laid out after cutting

Once you've cut the correct angle at each end of the wall panelling strip, lightly sand the wood for a flawless finish, clean lines and neater joins. 


I found it quicker to make all the cuts before attaching them to the wall. This allows you to measure them against each other to ensure you have been really consistent with the sizing.


Attach the panels to the wall

Stair wall panel laid out on the floor before installation



Do this for each of the four sides of each panel and lay them out on the floor for a visual check. (Note the panel in the image show is for the LHS of the stairs and the other images are for the RHS - just to confuse you - sorry!).




two sections of stair panelling attached to the wall
Attached stair wall panelling with grab adhesive

Once you have the right quantity, if all looks well, attach the first piece to the wall using grab adhesive - I placed the bottom strip of moulding using the line I'd marked on the wall as a guide.



Checking stairs with a spirit level

The second piece I added was the adjacent side piece using a spirit level to ensure the panel is vertical. 





Caulking stairs panelling

Top Tip: Apply a bead of grab adhesive to the cut ends of the panelling to help them stick together. Push the ends together and wipe away the excess adhesive that is squeezed out. 

Press the panels firmly to the wall and wipe any adhesive away that comes out of the sides. 

Leave to set.


Attaching stairs panelling to the wall
DIY stairs panelling on the walls

Work your way round the perimeter of the panel adding each of the remaining sides. 


Repeat for each panel that you've marked along the wall.


Caulk the joins

caulking the joins in DIY stairs panelling

Once the panels are firmly stuck to the wall, it's time to fill any gaps along the edges with decorators caulk. 

You can read my tutorial on how to load and use a caulking gun here if you need any advice/tips. 


  • Run the tip of the caulking gun along the edge, 

  • Smooth the caulk with a clean finger 

  • Wipe away any excess with a damp cloth

  • Allow to dry


Paint

paint for stairs wall panelling
Painting DIY stairs panelling

I used Dulux eggshell wood and metal paint. I like it because it has a very slight sheen, it water-based not too strong smelling and is sefl-undercoating so doesn't require a separate primer. Choose the right paint finish for your tastes and situation, but I find a very high-traffic area like the stairs is quite well suited to a more resilient finish. You'll need to decide whether the paint the wall paneling a different colour to the upper half, or to colour drench/ cover the whole wall in the same paint. I opted for a Farrow and Ball colour match (Shaded white) on the top half and Dulux white cotton on the panelling for visual interest. You could of course go for a bold colour or modern twist - be true to your interior style or you won't love the results. 


Tips for a professional finish


  • Sand any imperfections in your paint job very lightly with a high grit sandpaper to get a smooth finish.

  • Be sure to use flexible filler / caulk on the joins/gaps to prevent shrinkage and cracking.

  • Use a hard-backed tenon saw for the angled cuts if you don't have an electric saw as the stiffness of the saw will prevent the angles being wobbly. 

  • Use a knotting solution on your panelling pieces if you using pine and any knots are present. 

  • Continue the panelling up onto the landing/hallway - I have a hallway panelling tutorial coming soon

  • Make a template for the required mm gap around each panel to save time measuring

A note about angles on each wall


Remember that the angles will be equal and opposite for the panels on each side of the stairs, I found this out the hard way! So the four pieces you cut for a panel on the left hand side of the wall won't work on the left hand side of the wall as they are a mirror image. Keep the lengths the same for each piece but swap the angles round at each end. If this is confusing, just make a separate template for the angles on each wall and you'll be fine.


Troubleshooting stairs panelling

Large gap in stairs panelling join

Don't panic if some of your angled cuts aren't perfect (see example in image shown); stick the offending piece of moulding exactly in position and fill the gap with caulk. Wipe over the gap with a damp cloth but try to ensure the surface is flat not concave. Sand lightly once dry to hide the dodgy join then paint and no-one will know!


Styling ideas for stairs panelling


  • A gallery wall would look great on the upper half of the wall

  • Consider a stair runner for maximum style - I have a DIY tutorial here if you're interested

  • A plain wall above will help the panelling stand out as the main feature.

  • By incorporating horizontal rails and skirting boards, the paneling brings a touch of elegance to both sides of the staircase, especially in narrow hallways or at the top of the stairs. 

DIY stairs wall panelling

Picture frame wall paneling on the stairs is a great idea for adding traditional features to a modern home, especially for busy family homes or transitional spaces like entrance halls and narrow areas by the staircase. Using a full stair DIY kit with pre-cut wood strips, and installation materials ensures easy installation even in the hardest areas, but if your budget won't stretch to these kits then stair panelling is an achievable DIY project using my step-by-step guides and advice on correct angles and panel placement. 


You can get stair panelling inspiration in my types of stairs panelling post where I share lots of good ideas for modern design and traditional features. Wall moulding strips can be picked up from your local DIY store with a plethora of profiles enabling you to match the original features of an older home or just spruce up a tired hallway. Stair panelling is a great way to add some interest to a narrow space that can be the hardest area to add character to. 


Where next?

Here are some other panelling-related posts you might enjoy…


Thank you for taking the time to read! If you're interested in staying updated on future DIY, decorating, interior styling, and upcycling projects, I'd love to keep you in the loop. Subscribe to my (never more than weekly and spam-free) emails by scrolling down to the box at the bottom of the page







1 Comment


D. K.
D. K.
Jun 01

We're working on renovating parts of our home right now. Mainly focusing on sprucing up the hallways and staircases. Putting up some picture frame wall paneling on the stairs is such a great idea!! :)

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